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Reports 1995-1998 Edited by Dwain C. Epps

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New Openings for Muslim-Christian Dialogue

Press release on a staff visit to Iran, 19-22 April 1995.

Two WCC staff members recently visited Iran in response to the invitation extended by representatives of the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance at a meeting earlier this year with WCC General Secretary, Dr Konrad Raiser.

WCC member churches in Iran were consulted about plans for the visit by the Rev. Dwain Epps, WCC International Affairs Coordinator and Dr. Tarek Mitri, WCC Executive Secretary for Christian-Muslim Relations.

This was the first official WCC visit to Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

During the visit agreement was reached on a framework for dialogue with Muslim scholars in Iran. A further meeting will be held in Geneva later this year to work out details.

During their four-day stay in Iran, Dr. Mitri and Mr. Epps renewed direct contacts with member churches who constitute a sizeable portion of the Christian community in that country. The WCC delegation met senior church leaders and visited institutions of the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Synod of Evangelical Churches in both Teheran and Isfahan.

At a meeting with senior church leaders the delegation expressed condolences to the churches for the losses they and other Christians had suffered in Iran in recent years. The two WCC staff members assured Iranian Christians that they continue to be very much in the prayers of the ecumenical community around the world.

The delegation also met with officials of the Iranian Ministry responsible for minority affairs and inter-religious dialogue; and the Director and staff of the Centre for International Cultural Studies where they discussed theological approaches to justice and peace and explored possibilities for continuing dialogue.

During conversations with the leader of the Iranian Association of Inter-Religious Dialogue, Sheikh Shabasteri, professor at the University of Teheran and former Director of the University of Hamburg's Islamic Centre, agreement was reached on a framework and possible topics for future discussions.

The delegation also met Ms Fatima Hashemi, President of the Iranian Women's Solidarity Association, who had visited WCC headquarters with a women's delegation some weeks earlier.

Colloquium on the role of religions in the contemporary world

Press release issued at the conclusion of the colloquium in Geneva, 15-16 December 1995

The meeting, held in Farsi and English, involved twelve persons, including high-standing Iranian Muslim scholars and Christian counterparts from several countries engaged with the WCC inter-religious dialogue program. Presentations were made from both Christian and Muslim perspectives on social justice and world peace; the challenges of modernity and the problem of atheism; the sanctity of human life and the place and role of the family; and human dignity, rights and laws.

For the first time, a conference is to be organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Iranian Muslim scholars.

This decision follows a colloquium held 15-16 December in Geneva and attended by representatives of the WCC and the Secretariat for Interfaith Dialogue of the Iranian Centre for International Studies.

The forthcoming conference is planned for October 1996 in Teheran. The theme will be “Religion and the Contemporary World”. Representatives of Iranian churches will also attend.

Iranian officials first made contact with the WCC a year ago and sent a delegation to WCC headquarters in Geneva.

Subsequently, a WCC team visited Iran and met Muslim scholars and government officials as well as WCC member churches in Iran. It was agreed the next step should be a Christian-Muslim colloquium.

Now, both sides have stressed the frankness, honesty and cordiality present at this meeting.

The challenge of secularisation to people of faith provided the main topic for debate for the fourteen participants. Other subjects covered included law and human dignity, justice and peace, and religion, culture and international relations.

Dr. Mohammad Ali Shoaei, Director of the Iranian Centre for International Studies, said he had been surprised to discover how seriously the WCC took its involvement in world affairs. “We thought of Christianity as having accepted secularism and believed it did not wish to involve itself in politics, social issues or international affairs. We have found this is not true.”

He said Iran first made contact with the WCC because religious scholars in Iran felt, in the face of an increasingly secularised world, they must get in touch with religious people elsewhere with whom they believed they shared common understandings. “It is there. We found it in this meeting. We have found people who believe in holy things”, said Dr Shoaei after the colloquium.

Dr. Tarek Mitri, of the WCC's Office on Inter-religious Relations, commented, “It is important to realise the two groups did not meet around a negotiating table. This was not two blocks facing each other but people with similar questions involved in discussions.”

Dr. Shoaei said next year's Teheran conference had to find practical solutions to ways in which Christians and Muslims could work together and co-exist. Both he and Dr. Mitri confirmed there would be “no limits” on what could be discussed in Teheran. According to Dr. Mitri, “The forthcoming debate on religion and the world must wrestle with questions which should be dealt with by Muslims and Christians together rather than separately. In that respect, we are involved in a very important task.”

Letter of concern on the assassination of a Christian minister

Letter to Mr. Sayyed Abdolmajid Mirdamadi of the Centre for International Cultural Studies in Teheran, 14 October 1996.

Dear Mr. Mirdamadi,

Greetings to you and peace.

Late Friday, 11 October, word reached us here through the international press of the assassination of Mr. Mohammad Bagher Yussefi, a pastor of the Assemblies of God churches in Sari and Gorgan.

According to our information, the body of the pastor, known as Mohammad Ravankagakhsh, was found hanging from a tree near Qa'emshahr more than ten days ago.

We would be grateful for the fullest possible information about this tragic occurrence, including the circumstances of his death and steps taken by the competent Iranian authorities to identify, charge and try those responsible.

Given the wide international interest in the continuation of our fruitful dialogue which is due to take place in Teheran in late November, you will understand the urgency of our being able to respond promptly to enquiries made of us on this tragic occurrence. Your reply at the soonest will allow us to take into account the facts surrounding the matter as they have been gathered by official investigations.

In the hope of your urgent reply to this request by fax, I remain,

Respectfully yours,

Dwain C. Epps

Coordinator, International Affairs

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